Last week, and I quote myself, I said “…but Ginger wasn’t the problem…”.  I hate eating my words.  I should have trusted my initial instincts.

Frodo just can't seem to get a break

During our last Fowl Friday post a couple of our readers suggested that Frodo would make a good subject for a children’s book.  Unfortunately, things have taken a dramatic turn in the wrong direction, and a story with the potential for a happy ending, has now turned into a tale akin to one written by the Brothers Grimm.

On Saturday Frodo was back out in the portable pen again with our three Buff Orpington hens, Ginger, Babs, and Sweet Pea.

We've been slowly introducing Frodo to our orchard hens

He’d already spent time alone with Ginger, which had gone very well.  Everything seemed to be going along fine, and all the birds were scratching around rummaging for grain and bugs.  I sat with them for a while.  It was a warm afternoon, and as everyone seemed relaxed, I went back into the house for a short while to make some bread dough.

Last week I mentioned that when Ginger and Frodo first met, a few feathers flew, briefly, and then everyone seemed fine.  Ginger, even as head hen, didn’t seem to mind having Frodo around, but we were continuing to work with all the hens to ensure that Frodo was accepted by everyone before even considering trying to house them together permanently.

Ginger rules the roost in the orchard

It turns out that Ginger wasn’t as willing to give up her role of ruler of the roost as she first led us to believe.

With the bread dough proofing on the kitchen counter, I went back out to check on the chickens.  All seemed quiet enough.  On the return walk from the house toward the orchard, as the portable pen came back into view, I could see that Frodo was laying down in the corner.  I thought at first that he was just relaxing in the shade with the girls.  Then, as I got closer, I could see that Ginger was standing on top of Frodo.  Closer still, and Ginger looked like a vulture perched on a carcass.  I realized she was violently pecking at Frodo’s back.  Frodo was just laying there, dead-still.  I couldn’t see where his head was…he wasn’t moving at all as she struck at him. I was sure I was too late.

This is how Frodo's back looked when I left him in the pen earlier that afternoon, his saddle feathers finally growing out

I ran the last bit through the gardens, and as I got to the pen Frodo raised his head up from the corner.  That was when I realized I was holding my breath…as I breathed a brief sigh of relief.  He was still alive, but he was silent, and didn’t make a sound as Ginger struck him again.  He buried his head back underneath the edge of the pen.  I could see he’d been desperately trying to tunnel out of the corner.  I was mortified, angry, disappointed, disgusted, and felt an overwhelming sense of guilt for leaving him alone with the girls.  He’d already been through so much, and now this?

Ginger was ripping Frodo's tail and saddle feathers out

Livid, I lunged toward Ginger, smacking the side of the pen, to scare her off, but it’s not easy getting through to a chicken that is dazed and enamoured by the sight of blood.  I grabbed the corner of the pen, lifting it off the ground, shoved Ginger away from Frodo, and quickly coaxed him out.  I had no idea how badly he was hurt, but I was appalled at how much blood there was. I could see his beautiful iridescent feathers strewn across the garden.  I ran after him, to catch him, and realized his tail was completely missing.  There was nothing left but a bloody stump, and his back was raw and bleeding.

His tail feathers had a beautiful green sheen

Things were rough with Siegfried in the coop, but this was far beyond anything that happened with him.  This was brutal.  The vicious reality of life as a chicken that doesn’t fit in with the flock.  I know that there are times when chickens can be ruthless toward each other, sometimes with little warning, even when everything seems to be going fine, they can simply snap. Ginger had snapped.  I’m not a poultry psychologist, or an expert in poultry behavior, but I do know this can be a very real part of being chicken.  I wondered what would have happened if I hadn’t walked out to check on Frodo when I did.  Would Ginger have kept going until she killed him? That we’ll never know, I just had to be content that I’d found him when I did.

Ginger was clearly agitated after the attack

Frodo was rushed into the house, and we quickly examined him to assess the extent of his injuries.  His vent was intact, thankfully, but there was a lot of blood all across his back.  We cleaned the area of enough blood to determine that his skin, although brutalized, bleeding, raw and tender looking, wasn’t torn. We watched for a few minutes to get an idea of his rate of blood loss.  His saddle feathers were still growing in, and new feathers have enriched blood supplies, and when broken, can cause excessive blood loss, so we wanted to be sure he wasn’t going to exsanguinate as a result of his injuries.  There were numerous broken feathers with the quills still embedded in his skin, some of which were slowly oozing blood.  Of his saddle feathers that took weeks to grow in, the longest ones were gone.  His beautiful tail that had just started to fill out, this is all that’s left…

 

This is what was left of Frodo's tail

Frodo was breathing very hard, trembling, and clearly stressed.  Content he wasn’t bleeding too much, we set him in a large box, with a heat lamp at one end of the box, and a towel, fresh food and water, and left him in a darkened quiet room for a while to give him a chance to calm down. Birds can be very stoic, especially chickens, but to aggressively treat him while he was so stressed, could be enough to tip him over the edge.  We checked in on him periodically, just to ensure that any active bleeding had stopped, and left him alone until the next morning.

I’ll say this for chickens, they’re tough.  The next morning, a rather antsy and agitated Frodo greeted me.  The bleeding had stopped, and he was back to eating and drinking, which was an excellent sign.  I promised him we were done with trying to introduce him to any other chickens, and pulled him out to assess the damage.  Fortunately for Frodo, it seems no damage was done that time won’t heal.  He was lucky this time.

A little tuft is all that's left, but Frodo is healing well

We know that chickens attack each other for a number of reasons.  In this case, Frodo was new, he was different, and he was a rooster.  Ginger is now a repeat offender.  Once before she had attacked our old hen ‘Roo’ when she was egg-bound and bleeding from her vent.  This was the first time I’d witnessed a chicken, personally, in that ‘red-haze daze’.  That was the only time I’d seen that glint in Ginger’s eye, but Roo was bleeding, that was clearly the catalyst for her behavior that day.  Why she attacked Frodo, beyond him being new, and not looking like any other chicken she’d seen before, only Ginger knows.  Sadly, Frodo just doesn’t have it in him to fight back.  Perhaps that will change as he grows older, and significantly larger, but at the moment he just doesn’t seem able to stand his ground, not even against a hen.

So now we have to decide what to do about Frodo.  Despite being raised with our new flock this spring, since he was seven weeks old, his flock-mates just refused to give him a break.  We’re clearly not going to try to introduce him to any new hens any time soon either.  As a slow grower, it will be a while before he’s up to full size.  We could try to re-home him, but I honestly would prefer not to, as the issue is that he can’t or won’t defend himself, and he’s just as likely to meet the same fate, or worse, somewhere else.  Soup isn’t an option.  I know, real farmers would soup him, but we can’t.  Us ‘hobby-farmers’ have that latitude, and we have the space here to make room for him.

For now, our thought is to build a second ark, like the one we put up in the orchard this year.  When you have more than a few chickens, it’s not a bad idea to have a spare pen to house an ill or injured bird in, or to house a broody hen if we wanted more chicks down the road.  We’d need another ark sooner or later.  We can alternate ranging him in the orchard, versus the hens.  Maybe things will be different once he’s full grown, which won’t be for some months yet.  In the meantime, Frodo will continue to be doted on by us, to ensure he remains a tame rooster, and as you can see below, he’s already making friends with some of our local woodland creatures.

Once he’s grown more, and can stand up for himself, we can try bringing a few docile, passive hens from the main flock to range with him, but we’re not going to push it.  For now at least, Frodo will remain a bachelor.  His wounds need to heal, his feathers need to regrow, again, and he needs to work on finding his inner rooster.  We’ll let him dictate where we go from there…